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A Technology Curmudgeon’s Perspective On Innovation

The word innovation is bandied around quite a bit these days. Most often, it seems the word is used with personal entertainment technologies such as the latest music, camera and video functions for mobile phones, or even YouTube political debates.

From the April/May 2008 Issue

The word innovation is bandied around quite a bit these days. Most often,
it seems the word is used with personal entertainment technologies such as the
latest music, camera and video functions for mobile phones, or even YouTube
political debates. Unfortunately, truly useful innovations for the professional
work environment are less common.

Those who know me occaionally accuse me of being a curmudgeon at times when
it comes to technological advances, but this isn’t quite true. I embrace
some advances wholeheartedly, but I admit that I am often cynical about the
promise of some new gadget or program feature when it is touted as revolutionary
or ultra-innovative. Frequently, these new features are just the latest in the
trend to make everything do everything possible, regardless of whether many
professionals will actually need the function. This can result in bloated programs
that grow, over time, to be evermore complex because of the need to make these
thousands of capabilities accessible via toolbars and various menus.

I like to think that I am cautiously skeptical — I want to see how something
will fit into an existing workflow or, if it requires changing the processes,
how much pain it will cause during this transition. If the effort required to
change is too great or too disruptive, a new technology may not be accepted,
regardless of the promise it holds. Whether or not it is fair, I suppose that
I am including feasibility and likelihood of adaptation into my assessment of
new technologies.

Many new technologies are brought to market each year, even within our specific
area (the intersection of technology and public accounting). Unfortunately,
some are developed and marketed by technology vendors outside of the profession
and with little knowledge of the actual work tax and accounting firms perform,
the subtleties of client interaction, and even the legal factors that must be

On the other hand, there are tax and accounting-savvy developers who do know
the needs of the profession. Some come from accounting backgrounds themselves,
while others have invested significant time and resources into learning and
keeping up with changing needs.

An example of the former is CPA Service Group, a company that recently debuted
an automated, web-based disclosure compliance system called DRM. The company
is run by a CPA who specialized in these processes for the early part of his
career and recognized the need for a simple program that automatically generates
engagement letters, disclosure checklists, financial statements and other documents
based on the AICPA’s requirements. DRM provides small and mid-sized firms
a more cost-effective way to produce consistent and accurate disclosure reporting
that can be customized to the firm’s internal standards, formats and practices.

A good example of a new technology vendor that has taken the time to learn
the needs of the profession is CharacTell, whose FormCliQ program streamlines
the entry of data from invoices, sales orders, estimates and other client-generated
documents into an accounting system. Once a document type is scanned the first
time, the system remembers where the data is supposed to be routed and does
it automatically for future documents of the same type, leaving only the need
to quickly review the information. It also uses optical character recognition
(OCR) to automatically index and archive these documents, which makes it easy
to search by any of the data contained within the documents: vendor, part number,
invoice number, quantity, etc. With these documents basically one click away,
they can also very easily be printed or electronically sent to recipients.

As for larger vendors serving the profession, Thomson Tax & Accounting,
CCH and Intuit have invested considerable time and money into knowing practitioners
and understanding how they use their products.
Thomson Tax & Accounting, which produces the CS suite of accounting, tax
and practice management systems (as well as other professional systems under
other names), retains tax and accounting professionals on its staff, is heavily
involved in the professional community and provides online forums (ARNE2) for
professionals to interact and assist each other. The CS line (formerly Creative
Solutions) is a continuing innovation in itself, bringing together a tightly
integrated array of programs for virtually every need within a professional
full-service accounting practice.

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the Web

The CPA Technology Advisor’s Productivity Survey

The CPA Tech Advisor’s Document Management Product Selector


CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business has embraced innovation by identifying valuable
new solutions brought to the market by smaller developers, acquiring them and
then integrating them into its ProSystem fx product line.
Intuit, with its QuickBooks, Lacerte and ProSeries products, performs thousands
of in-office visits each year with professionals to see how they actually use
the systems and to see the workflow processes that are involved in client service.
They also maintain a community of professional users who receive additional
product-specific training.

True innovation, that which produces more efficient and productive workflow
processes, isn’t extinct, but it is often necessary to get beyond the
marketing hype and buzzwords to see how a new technology will affect a professional.
In addition to the companies I’ve mentioned here, a handful of others
bring products and services to market each year that hold the promise of true

We will be honoring the most notable of these new technologies with the 2008
Tax & Accounting Technology Innovation Awards, which will be announced at
the California Accounting and Business Show & Conference (
in Los Angeles on June 12. We will also present them to you in our August issue.
Award recipients are selected by our Awards Committee, which includes our editorial
staff, our advisory board and numerous thought leaders in the profession.

This magazine has also kept in touch with the changing needs of professionals,
offering new ways for you to get content through webcasts and podcasts, as well
as giving you tools like the Productivity Survey to help you assess your use
of technology, and the DMS Product Selector Tool to help you find the right
document management system to meet your firm’s needs. And we’ll
continue to evolve here at the intersection of technology and public accounting
along with the profession. After all, those who do not innovate, deteriorate.

See, I’m not really a technology curmudgeon; I just try to be selective
in my use of the word innovation.